I, Paul, am begging you with the gentleness and the kindness of Christ. Some people say that I am easy on you when I am with you and bold when I am away.
They think we live in a worldly way, and I plan to be very bold with them when I come. I beg you that when I come I will not need to use that same boldness with you.
We do live in the world, but we do not fight in the same way the world fights.
We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weapons have power from God that can destroy the enemy's strong places. We destroy people's arguments
and every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.
We are ready to punish anyone there who does not obey, but first we want you to obey fully.
You must look at the facts before you. If you feel sure that you belong to Christ, you must remember that we belong to Christ just as you do.
It is true that we brag freely about the authority the Lord gave us. But this authority is to build you up, not to tear you down. So I will not be ashamed.
I do not want you to think I am trying to scare you with my letters.
Some people say, "Paul's letters are powerful and sound important, but when he is with us, he is weak. And his speaking is nothing."
They should know this: We are not there with you now, so we say these things in letters. But when we are there with you, we will show the same authority that we show in our letters.
We do not dare to compare ourselves with those who think they are very important. They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing.
But we will not brag about things outside the work that was given us to do. We will limit our bragging to the work that God gave us, and this includes our work with you.
We are not bragging too much, as we would be if we had not already come to you. But we have come to you with the Good News of Christ.
We limit our bragging to the work that is ours, not what others have done. We hope that as your faith continues to grow, you will help our work to grow much larger.
We want to tell the Good News in the areas beyond your city. We do not want to brag about work that has already been done in another person's area.
But, "If someone wants to brag, he should brag only about the Lord."
It is not those who say they are good who are accepted but those who the Lord thinks are good.
I wish you would be patient with me even when I am a little foolish, but you are already doing that.
I am jealous over you with a jealousy that comes from God. I promised to give you to Christ, as your only husband. I want to give you as his pure bride.
But I am afraid that your minds will be led away from your true and pure following of Christ just as Eve was tricked by the snake with his evil ways.
You are very patient with anyone who comes to you and preaches a different Jesus from the one we preached. You are very willing to accept a spirit or gospel that is different from the Spirit and Good News you received from us.
I do not think that those "great apostles" are any better than I am.
I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have shown this to you clearly in every way.
I preached God's Good News to you without pay. I made myself unimportant to make you important. Do you think that was wrong?
I accepted pay from other churches, taking their money so I could serve you.
If I needed something when I was with you, I did not trouble any of you. The brothers who came from Macedonia gave me all that I needed. I did not allow myself to depend on you in any way, and I will never depend on you.
No one in Southern Greece will stop me from bragging about that. I say this with the truth of Christ in me.
And why do I not depend on you? Do you think it is because I do not love you? God knows that I love you.
And I will continue doing what I am doing now, because I want to stop those people from having a reason to brag. They would like to say that the work they brag about is the same as ours.
Such men are not true apostles but are workers who lie. They change themselves to look like apostles of Christ.
This does not surprise us. Even Satan changes himself to look like an angel of light.
So it does not surprise us if Satan's servants also make themselves look like servants who work for what is right. But in the end they will be punished for what they do.
I tell you again: No one should think I am a fool. But if you think so, accept me as you would accept a fool. Then I can brag a little, too.
When I brag because I feel sure of myself, I am not talking as the Lord would talk but as a fool.
Many people are bragging about their lives in the world. So I will brag too.
You are wise, so you will gladly be patient with fools!
You are even patient with those who order you around, or use you, or trick you, or think they are better than you, or hit you in the face.
It is shameful to me to say this, but we were too "weak" to do those things to you! But if anyone else is brave enough to brag, then I also will be brave and brag. (I am talking as a fool.)
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they from Abraham's family? So am I.
Are they serving Christ? I am serving him more. (I am crazy to talk like this.) I have worked much harder than they. I have been in prison more often. I have been hurt more in beatings. I have been near death many times.
Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip.
Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost stoned to death. Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea.
I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews. I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger with false Christians.
I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes.
Besides all this, there is on me every day the load of my concern for all the churches.
I feel weak every time someone is weak, and I feel upset every time someone is led into sin.
If I must brag, I will brag about the things that show I am weak.
God knows I am not lying. He is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is to be praised forever.
When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas wanted to arrest me, so he put guards around the city.
But my friends lowered me in a basket through a hole in the city wall. So I escaped from the governor.
I must continue to brag. It will do no good, but I will talk now about visions and revelationsn from the Lord.
I know a man in Christ who was taken up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. I do not know whether the man was in his body or out of his body, but God knows.
And I know that this man was taken up to paradise. I don't know if he was in his body or away from his body, but God knows. He heard things he is not able to explain, things that no human is allowed to tell.
I will brag about a man like that, but I will not brag about myself, except about my weaknesses.
But if I wanted to brag about myself, I would not be a fool, because I would be telling the truth. But I will not brag about myself. I do not want people to think more of me than what they see me do or hear me say.
So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problemn was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to beat me and keep me from being too proud.
I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me.
But he said to me, "My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you." So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ's power can live in me.
For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong.
I have been talking like a fool, but you made me do it. You are the ones who should say good things about me. I am worth nothing, but those "great apostles" are not worth any more than I am!
When I was with you, I patiently did the things that prove I am an apostle -- signs, wonders, and miracles.
So you received everything that the other churches have received. Only one thing was different: I was not a burden to you. Forgive me for this!
I am now ready to visit you the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I want nothing from you, except you. Children should not have to save up to give to their parents. Parents should save to give to their children.
So I am happy to give everything I have for you, even myself. If I love you more, will you love me less?
It is clear I was not a burden to you, but you think I was tricky and lied to catch you.
Did I cheat you by using any of the messengers I sent to you? No, you know I did not.
I asked Titus to go to you, and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not cheat you, did he? No, you know that Titus and I did the same thing and with the same spirit.
Do you think we have been defending ourselves to you all this time? We have been speaking in Christ and before God. You are our dear friends, and everything we do is to make you stronger.
I am afraid that when I come, you will not be what I want you to be, and I will not be what you want me to be. I am afraid that among you there may be arguing, jealousy, anger, selfish fighting, evil talk, gossip, pride, and confusion.
I am afraid that when I come to you again, my God will make me ashamed before you. I may be saddened by many of those who have sinned because they have not changed their hearts or turned from their sexual sins and the shameful things they have done.
I will come to you for the third time. "Every case must be proved by two or three witnesses."
When I was with you the second time, I gave a warning to those who had sinned. Now I am away from you, and I give a warning to all the others. When I come to you again, I will not be easy with them.
You want proof that Christ is speaking through me. My proof is that he is not weak among you, but he is powerful.
It is true that he was weak when he was killed on the cross, but he lives now by God's power. It is true that we are weak in Christ, but for you we will be alive in Christ by God's power.
Look closely at yourselves. Test yourselves to see if you are living in the faith. You know that Jesus Christ is in you -- unless you fail the test.
But I hope you will see that we ourselves have not failed the test.
We pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. It is not important to see that we have passed the test, but it is important that you do what is right, even if it seems we have failed.
We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.
We are happy to be weak, if you are strong, and we pray that you will become complete.
I am writing this while I am away from you so that when I come I will not have to be harsh in my use of authority. The Lord gave me this authority to build you up, not to tear you down.
Now, brothers and sisters, I say good-bye. Try to be complete. Do what I have asked you to do. Agree with each other, and live in peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet each other with a holy kiss.
All of God's holy people send greetings to you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.